^My friend Vanessa at Herdutchness and Old Soul Knits was gracious enough to write this post on eating organic since I don't know much about the subject. We currently don't eat organic food, so I'm getting just as much out of her information, tips and tricks as you are ;) Vanessa is one of my greener friends being a fellow cloth diaperer, knitter, gardener, and home-spun wool and yarn maker. She has lots of great tips for us.
Hi! My name is Vanessa. I’m a wife to Nialle and a mom to Liam and Ada. I first became interested in eating organic when I was pregnant with my daughter. If you’ve been pregnant before and know how strange you can get about cleaning or cooking when you’re nesting, well, that’s how I was in regards to chemicals in my food.
My approach to eating organic is shaped largely by the fact that I live in an area where the growing season is only 4 ½ months long. Most of the organic food I get is from the supermarket, although I do have a garden that I eat from in the summer. I also try to freeze as much as possible from my garden for the winter months.
We don’t eat 100% organic, but we are slowly trying to increase the number of organic foods in our diet. Currently, we eat as many organic vegetables as we can and a few organic staples. In the next year we’d like to start eating more organic meats.
Organic food is often portrayed as a market segment, a hippie fixation or just paranoia. But really, organic food is an avenue to a philosophy – that the food we eat should be delicious, whole, and free of chemicals and genetic modification.
SO WHY ORGANIC?
The mass-farming methods (particularly pesticide use) pioneered in the past century have led to a host of ecology problems as the demand for cheap goods in North America has swelled. The driving philosophy behind organic foods is that of little to no negative impact on the environment.
A study by the National Research Council in the US showed significant pesticide presence in the systems of children on conventional diets – and a noticeable pesticide decrease after switching to organic foods. For young children, the intake of food to body mass ratio is much higher than adults, so their chances of building up levels of potentially toxic substances when eating pesticide sprayed or genetically modified foods is an acute possibility. Organics afford the opportunity to vastly reduce a child’s exposure to toxins.
You may have had the unfortunate experience of purchasing an attractive looking, rock-hard piece of fruit that promptly rots on your kitchen counter without ever ripening. Conventional foods are manipulated in various ways, chemical and otherwise, to provide an attractive looking product that can withstand the rigors of cross-country or inter-continental shipment. More often than not, the taste of conventional food suffers because of these treatments (as anyone with a home garden can attest!) Organic foods are not forced into maturity and are not mass produced through the use of pesticides. Organic farmers are required by certification organizations to eschew pesticides, artificial coloring, genetic modification, irradiation, or other methods that bully foods into appearing ripe or full-grown. The resultant produce resembles the veggies that you’d pull out of your back yard – rich, lush, flavorful. And the meat? Have mercy.
HOW TO GET STARTED
I’ve learned that you can start to introduce organic foods into your diet without breaking the bank. Listed below are some tips that I found work particularly well for our family. The main thing is to start slow, build gradually and be aware.
On your next grocery trip, snoop around and see what foods you can get organically and how much they cost. Do an on-paper comparison to similar non-organic foods. Some organic foods are still way out of our budget, but after some cursory supermarket research, I learned which organic foods are comparable in price to, or cheaper than, my regular fare. In one small example of my personal shopping experience, organic Granny Smith apples were cheaper than the regulars, and tortilla chips from the local high-end organic store ended up being less pricey than the name-brand chips.
Prioritize - Go Organic With Your Favorites
Take a good look at the foods you eat regularly. If you eat a lot of apples, buy those organically to reduce your exposure to chemicals.
We started out trying to eat 10% of our produce organically. Now we try to do 10% of our whole grocery list and regularly aim for higher.
Using the meals on this website will help you to plan which foods you can buy organically for the week. If you’re eating a pasta dish one night, why not try some organic pasta? If you only need a few tomatoes, why not spring for some organic tomatoes? Meal planning will help you begin to incorporate organic foods into your diet without breaking the budget.
Go Organic Where It Counts
Fat-rich foods, like meat and dairy, are the most important to eat organically. Pesticides, antibiotics and other nasty stuff stores up in the fat of animals at alarmingly high rates and make their way into your diet. Sugary fruits are also a great place to start eating organic.
Check out FoodNews.Org for a list of the ‘Dirty Dozen’, 12 of the most pesticide ridden foods to avoid.
Buy Bulk or Generic
Buying bulk will generally save you money whether or not you’re buying organic. Also, look for generic or supermarket brand organic labels – some generic labels produce a wide variety of high-quality organic foods. In our local supermarket, I can get organic pasta for $2 a box, the same price as a brand-name non-organic box of pasta.
Although the frozen bulk pack of boneless chicken breasts looks financially prudent, one mouthful of organic, grain-fed bird might be enough to convince you to pay a little more and eat a little less. Go slow and experiment.
Buy More Staples and Less Processed Foods
Try to shop along the outside walls of your store – grocery stores are roughly organized with the staples on the fringes of the store, and the processed food in the center. Organic staples along the walls of the store will cost less than organic packaged and pre-made foods. For instance, organic crackers are expensive, but if you make them at home with organic whole wheat and sugar, you’ll save money.
Use it Up
One downside to organic: it lacks the lovely chemicals that give it the extended shelf-life. Be aware of what’s in your fridge and what’s going to spoil soon. Make apple pie or banana bread with produce that is getting overripe. Make a frittata with your leftover potatoes and tomatoes. Make chicken stock with leftover chicken parts. I love to put together quick vegetable soups for my son’s lunch with the bits and pieces of produce in our fridge. The list could go on and on. You spent good money for your organic foods, so make sure you get your money’s worth.
Shop in the Morning
Let’s face it, organic stuff does cost more. For this reason, many consumers avoid buying organic and more often than not the organic produce goes bad before it is bought. Thankfully, many grocery stores have a discount bin full of produce that is about to go bad. Generally the fruit is slightly overripe, a little bruised, but totally fine. Because of this, I often see organic bananas in the discount bin at my local supermarket and pick them up for half price.
Grow your Own
Have your own garden. Or grow some tomatoes in a pot. It’s fun, cheap and you’ll really know where your food is coming from. If you live in an apartment, look into renting a plot at a community garden. Try organic fertilizers, crop rotation and companion planting to promote plant growth. For some real inspiration as to what you can do in your own backyard, check out Little Homestead in the City.
Gardeners are often willing to unload surplus veggies. If anyone offers you free home-grown goodies, I highly recommend you jump at the chance to take some home. If you aren’t offered any veggies, it doesn’t hurt to ask for some. For safety’s sake, I would still check to see if the gardener used chemicals on his or her plants.
A great website to check out when you’re looking at freezing or canning home grown vegetables is the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Not everything local is organic. Not everything organic is local. At times you may have to choose one over the other. In the Canadian winters up here, eating fruit (organic or otherwise) during the winter means you’re consuming food that has been shipped thousands of kilometers to your grocery store. Likewise, if you shop at the local farmer’s market, it won’t hurt to ask if the farmer uses chemicals on his or her produce.
For further reading:
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan - A fascinating look at the history and effects of the Western diet.
Gorgeously Green by Sophie Uliano – A going-green-guide for Valley Girls. In spite of its ditzy dialogue, the book does have a great section on shopping organically...and lots of website addresses for other organic products.
Raising Baby Green by Dr. Alan Greene – A great resource for parents who are wondering how to go greener with kids.
I just wanted to add that if you can't afford to buy all your produce organically, you can still wash off a lot of the outer pesticides with a veggie spray. You can easily make a homemade veggie spray that doesn't cost a lot, which is a trick I actually learned from Vanessa! Here is her recipe. So if your goal is to incorporate MORE organic foods, but you just can't get all of them in there, try this tip.
A tip I learned from another friend who shops organically is that you should ALWAYS wash all of your produce...including the ones you don't eat the skin and peel. Because your hands are touching the outside peel that is covered with chemicals, you are just going to place those right back on the fruit or veg you are about to consume. This includes things like cantaloupe, bananas, squash, etc.
Labels: Meal Planning Tips